AFL finals: Four things that will make or break the West Coast Eagles’ premiership bid


Posted

September 06, 2018 09:53:17

The West Coast Eagles are in the enviable position of having two home finals and a direct route to the AFL grand final if all goes to plan, but there is still plenty of hard work to do.

In many ways, West Coast is in a better position now than when it played off for a flag three years ago, but there are some hurdles that need to be overcome if the club is to win its first premiership since 2006.

Here are four key points that could prove crucial heading into the club’s finals campaign.

1. The home of football doesn’t hold the fear it once did

West Coast has won both of its games at the MCG this season, against Carlton and Collingwood.

But before that, the club had won just one of six, with the losses including the 2015 grand final against Hawthorn.

Watching the 2015 decider, it was clear the Eagles struggled to defend the wide expanses of the MCG.

They were cut up by the Hawks’ precise ball use.

They will be better prepared this time around, if they do make it that far, and a big reason for that is Perth Stadium — or more specifically, its dimensions.

Subiaco Oval was a unique ground, being long and narrow.

But West Coast’s new home ground at Burswood has been designed to align with the MCG.

The field of play is 165 metres long and 130 metres wide. That is slightly shorter than Subiaco but closer to the MCG, which is 160 metres long and 141 metres wide.

It is not a game breaker, but it means it will be much easier to adapt the club’s method and game style.

It has already helped this year.

2. West Coast has a star-studded defence, but it has to lock down

Defenders Jeremy McGovern and Shannon Hurn were both named in the All-Australian team, but if there is one weakness in that part of the ground for Adam Simpson’s team it is locking down on mobile, dangerous forwards.

Jordan De Goey at the Pies looms as a threat.

Sydney superstar Lance Franklin got hold of both Tom Barrass and Jeremy McGovern in round one with eight goals the result.

Beyond that, Josh Caddy and Dustin Martin at the Tigers and Toby Greene at the Giants have all caused the Eagles trouble in the past.

Elliot Yeo has the strength and speed to play on any of those players, but with Andrew Gaff suspended for the rest of the year, Yeo is too important in the midfield.

There is doubt over veteran Will Schofield’s position in the team, but he is a defender versatile enough to match up on forwards of any size.

His inclusion helps free up McGovern, who has shown some vulnerability against quick forwards.

The question is, who do you leave out?

3. Without Nic Nat, the Eagles need to break even in the ruck

Scott Lycett was dominated by Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn in round 22.

Lycett is out of contract and widely tipped to move on to another club at the end of the year.

Perhaps that has been a distraction, because his form has dropped off late in the season.

Nathan Vardy is a solid number two ruckman, but when the Eagles come up against the likes of Gawn, Collingwood’s Brodie Grundy or Richmond’s Toby Nankervis, the aim should be to break even.

Grundy and the service he provides to the Magpies’ midfield stands as one of the keys to Collingwood causing an upset in the first week of the finals.

4. West Coast must draw on its finals experience

Three years removed from the grand final loss to the Hawks, 15 members of the West Coast team that played off for the premiership are still with the club.

Few played to their potential that day.

Hurn and Jack Darling were among those who were sub par, but both are now significantly better and more mature players.

Simpson is a much more assured coach as well, both on game day and away from the field.

He has led the club to finals in four of his five seasons in charge.

That experience counts for plenty.

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